So one thing that I’ve often found surprising when I talk with people, both inside and outside of the church, is that sometimes people forget that members of the clergy haven’t always been members of the clergy. It helps when people have watched somebody else go through the process. They can understand what it’s like to move from one role to another. But many others forget about that. They forget that there was ever a time when a priest was just a kid in Sunday school, or a young adult trying to find a place for themselves in the church and in the world.
I haven’t always been a priest, but I do think that my vocation started pretty early. Looking back on it, there were signs, right from the beginning. My mom likes to tell this story about how when I was five or so, growing up in the United Church (where they have ministers not priests) I one day looked up at the front of the church and I said “one day I want to be prime minister, just like him”. I remember too, around the same time, being swept away every week by the gorgeous, little, traditional, side chapel at the church that we never, ever got to use. It seems the writing was on the wall, even then.
I remember when I was about 14, I was made captain of my high school basketball team. If you’re imagining that the captain of a basketball team is usually someone a fair bit taller than my 5-foot and change frame, you’d probably be right. Except that I went to a Christian high school, where the captain of the basketball team was picked by the coach based on who was going to be willing and able to pray for the team before games. And trust me, we needed it. The writing was still on the wall.
I remember when I was 17 and I was made junior chaplain at the summer camp that I worked at. I had no idea what that meant, but it was the first time I had a real leadership role with a religious function and I guess it really got me thinking about what it could mean to be ordained, to dedicate my life to the service of God’s mission and purpose for this world.
You know, I have to remind myself of these stories sometimes. I’ve had this practice of trying to write out the autobiography of my spiritual life about once a year, not for record’s sake, not so that it can be read by anybody else, but just to remind myself of where I’ve come from, what guided me here, where I’ve felt God’s presence and God’s call most strongly in my life.
The thing is, origin stories are important. There’s no surprise there. You watch any TV show these days and there’ll inevitably be an episode with flashback scenes that tell the origin story of one or more of the characters, or for movies sometimes they’ll release an entire new film as a prequel to tell you where all of the drama started.
Origin stories are important because they help us remember where we came from and when we remember where we came from it’s easier to remember where we’re going and why we’re headed in that direction. Our origin stories remind us of the purpose and the reason for our life’s journey. They remind us of our first love as John describes it in Revelation 2—the thing that first set us on our course, those moments when we first encountered God, and God became real to us—not just an idea, but a person: someone we could trust, someone we could turn to.
CREATION AND BAPTISM
When the ancient Hebrew community was in exile in Babylon they started to commit their stories to writing and they asked themselves important questions about where they came from and why they were there. The story of Creation that we read this morning comes from that pivotal moment in their life together when they realized that their God wasn’t just some local, tribal God, but was God over all creation, the maker of heaven and earth. Their story wasn’t just the story of some tiny community at the crossroads of the known worlds, their story was part of the fabric of the earth itself. The same God who created light and called it good was the God who created humanity and called it very good, the same God who walked with his people down the ages through figures like Noah, and Abraham and Sarah, and Moses and Miriam, and David, and Esther. The story of Creation was their origin story, the original origin story and it told the tale of a people who were cherished and valued by God and who were given the responsibility of caring for the rest of Creation. And it got the Hebrew people through those dark moments of exile because they knew that they were meant for something greater.
When the apostles had gone out and spread the good news of Jesus Christ even to the very heart of the Roman empire they too started to commit their stories to writing. They asked themselves when all of the clamour had started, all the excitement over Jesus, the son of a carpenter from a fishing village way up north. They realized that it had all started on that day at the Jordan river when he got dunked in the water by his cousin John. And so they told the story, and every time they told it it was the very beginning of everything else that was about to come.
Mark’s gospel account, the oldest one, doesn’t even talk about Jesus’ birth or his childhood, it begins with his baptism. For Mark, this is Jesus’ origin story, and it tells the tale of a God who loves Jesus as his own Son, and who rejoices in who he is, but who also sends Jesus out into the world, to teach, to heal, to die, and to forgive. All of that, all of the stories that we’re going to tell about Jesus this year begin with this one brief moment: the baptism of our Lord where God speaks: “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
GOD’S PURPOSE IN OUR LIVES
If only it were always that clear as a voice booming out of the clouds, but it’s not always easy to hear God’s voice. In fact it’s so easy to get distracted by the worries and stresses of life; sometimes it’s just for a moment, sometimes it can go on for years. But the promise that God makes to all of us in our baptism is that God will speak to us. God will be there with us through the hurdles of life, and so whether or not we hear it, God is speaking. God has whispered those same words into your life as he whispered into Jesus’ life at his baptism: “You are my beloved child, with you I am well pleased”.
But it doesn’t end there. Just as with Jesus those words of affirmation aren’t the end result of a life well lived, they’re the starting line. They’re the origin story for each of us. Our purpose, our mission in life doesn’t lead up to that moment of God saying I love you, it stems from it. All that God calls us to do comes from those words. And so the question that we’re left with is: what is your origin story? When did you first hear God speaking to you, calling out to you? Where were you? What was God saying? And where is God calling you next?